Om Katare, who left Datia district of Madhya Pradesh 37 years ago to pursue his passion for stage, recalls his journey and the highs and lows of theatre
It was an intimate and discomforting situation, a family feud too close to escape from. Tension escalated, inching towards the classic incomplete slap after which the world must stand still for a moment. But the patriarch of the family hollered, pointing elsewhere though, upwards, towards the almighty but not really interacting with him, "Arre! You are not getting it. The light dims the moment she gets up."
Om Katare (in saffron kurta) directs a scene during rehearsals for Jeene Bhi Do Yaaro; the play debuts at the Yatri Festival. Pic/Nimesh Dave
"But there will be a blackout," spoke the celestial voice. "Let there be a blackout. Please do it according to plan," bellowed the patriarch and suddenly changed expression as light fell on his face to complete his argument with the senior lady of the house in stunning, almost schizophrenic, switch of personality. But there was no blackout. He hollered again. And the cycle was repeated. Again.
Displaying this unintended but fantastic show of dual personalities were Om Katare and actors of his group Yatri, rehearsing and managing the production of their new play, Jeene Bhi Do Yaaron at Prithvi theatre.
A moment from Yatri's play Jeene Bhi Do Yaaro. Pic/Nimesh Dave
The play will be launched on January 13, as a part of the Yatri Festival. It celebrates 37 years of the group and will also feature performances of their popular plays, Chinta Chhod Chintamani, Gaj Foot Inch, Hadh Kar Di Aapne and Ravanleela at four city venues including Prithvi theatre, which was where it all began.
Om Katare, founder-director of Yatri
"Prithvi is the only place where I can be at peace, doing nothing at all. I can spend hours here. This is where I started my journey and performed the first houseful play and hundreds later over the years," says Katare, who began his directorial journey at Prithvi with Ek Tha Gadha, in 1979.
"I had no idea what the future of the play would be and booked just one Sunday at the auditorium with trepidation. Given the option today, I would book all Sundays for the next 10 years," he says.
No time for classics
But this is not the only change 55-year-old Katare has witnessed. He saw the commercial theatre movement build, which he feels is scattered now, with a new audience and transforming taste in theatre.
"I came to Mumbai from Datia, a district near Jhansi in Madhya Pradesh. I was mesmerised by performances of Sulabha Deshpande in Vijay Tendulkar's plays. But classics have lost their appeal with the people. Hardly anyone performs classics or plays of complex nature anymore. Even if one does a production or two, it becomes an exercise in self-satisfaction with practical financial problems," Katare explains, looking at a man who had brought him bunch of bills. But he adds that it does not mean that theatre now is completely devoid of traditional values. A case in point, he says, is their new play, Jeene Bhi Do Yaaro, which deals with the modern relationship malaises including diminishing post-marital sex.
"It deals with a very real issue. The fact that today's couples hardly have time for each other is obviously leading to an increase in divorces; the audience connects with an issue like this immediately. It is not a tragedy but it has pain; but our take is not very grave," he points out.
To stay relevant they have performed everywhere. "We have performed for corporates and on the streets, and if necessary, we can also perform in drawing rooms," he says.
Katare recalls how Mumbai's theatre landscape, which witnessed a positive, productive time in the 1980s, and had peaked in the early 90s, ebbed thereafter. "It was a fantastic time. It seemed like theatre could finally become a financially viable option but then it got scattered. We still have full houses but the enthusiasm is not the same. The audience has now split; there is a separate audience for Yatri, for IPTA and other groups and then there is a steady but smaller audience for all quality theatre."
He does not hesitate to assert that theatre is not a financially viable profession in the country. And points out that it is chiefly because of the lack of a culture that encourages paying for theatre. "In several parts of the country there is no concept of buying tickets for a play. If there has to be a change, theatre has to be introduced as a subject in schools like in many countries," he believes.
He then points out how some people manage to be a part of his group with steady jobs while some double it up with television work. "They often miss rehearsals and I understand that it is difficult for them. I know their heart lies in stage and given the option, this is the only thing they would do. The stage has something magical."
Log on to: www.omkatare.com/yatri/yatri-festival.asp for festival details
Raavanleela is considered to be the most popular play from Yatri. Here, a Ramleela performance turns chaotic and hilarious when some untrained people are roped in to act
Chandu Ki Chachi is about Chandu, an orphan brought up by his aunt, who wants to fulfill all her dreams but it gets complicated when he becomes obsessive
The play Chinta Chhod Chintamani has been immensely popular. It is about a father who thinks his children are no good. It’s considered a laugh riot